New Orleans: Homeowners sandbagged their doors and tourists trying to get out of town jammed the airport Friday as Tropical Storm Barry began rolling in, threatening an epic drenching that could test how well New Orleans has strengthened its flood protections in the 14 years since Hurricane Katrina.
With the storm expected to blow ashore early Saturday near Morgan City as the first hurricane of the season, authorities rushed to close floodgates and raise the barriers around the New Orleans metropolitan area of 1.3 million people for fear of disastrous flooding. The storm was expected to inflict the most damage on Louisiana and parts of Mississippi, with wind and rain affecting more than 3 million people.
About 3,000 National Guard troops, along with other rescue crews, were posted around Louisiana with boats, high-water vehicles and helicopters. Drinking water was lined up, and utility crews with bucket trucks moved into position.
"This is happening. Your preparedness window is shrinking," National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham warned. He added: "It's powerful. It's strengthening. And water is going to be a big issue."
Late Friday night, residents received good news from forecasters: the Mississippi River is expected to crest in New Orleans at about 17.1 feet (5.2 meters), not 19 feet (5.8 meters) as had been earlier predicted. The levees protecting the city range from about 20 to 25 feet (6 to 7.5 meters) in height.
While 10,000 people or more in exposed, low-lying areas along the Gulf Coast were told to leave, no evacuations were ordered in New Orleans, where officials instead urged residents to "shelter in place" starting at 8 p.m.